"Isn't it cool," he said, earlier in the week, "to be fighting Friday night?"
Was it possible that Tyson, unpredictable and volatile, a petri dish of psychoses, was finally at peace with himself? He was at least more charming than usual. He invited reporters—the same ones he once said he wished he could batter senseless—to his hotel room and showed them the eight Birmingham Rollers in an adjoining suite, soon to join the rest of his considerable fleet of pigeons. He joked about his public image. ( Kentucky politicians went to enormous lengths to distance themselves from him.) "I come to town, I'm like Genghis Khan." He laughed about his new good behavior. "My kids are on the Internet now," he said. "I don't want them reading anything bad about me."
No matter his crimes, it was now almost possible to root for him. He had gotten rid of the lion and tigers, the entourage, the houses and a lot of cars. He'd lost 35 pounds in training. He was humble, pleasant. However he'd offended our sensibilities over the years, he'd given us some thrills, too. Didn't he deserve better than Chapter 11?
All that was required of him were a few spectacular knockouts, and where better to begin than with the 31-year-old Williams, who had certified his shakiness by losing to people like Julius Francis and Michael Sprott. Williams is a likable man with no illusions of grandeur. "I know why they brought me here," he said. "They think I'm a knockover."
But Williams knew also that Tyson was only a bully, and an aged one at that. Anybody who'd ever fought back—Buster Douglas, Holyfield, Lewis—had shattered Tyson's tactics of intimidation. "You've just got to give it back to him," explained Williams beforehand.
Friday night, before a nearly packed house, Tyson stormed forth at the opening bell and set a blistering pace, and Williams's game plan seemed painfully naive. Tyson uncorked an uppercut in the first round, a real moneymaker that stunned Williams, and then Tyson dug to the body with horrible left hooks.
But Williams weathered that storm and began employing a scheme last enacted by Holyfield. Using his weight advantage—265 pounds to Tyson's 233—Williams tied up the smaller man, pressed on him, pushed him around, wore him out. He even cut him above the right eye in the third round.
In Round 4, thus emboldened, Williams unleashed the final flurry, an uppercut early in the sequence perhaps doing the most damage. Throughout the barrage, Tyson attempted just one half-hearted swing, before going down, more in resignation, it seemed in the end, than from actual percussion.
The referee was late with the count, but it hardly mattered. Tyson simply sat there, looking idly at the ref, then sweeping his eyes across this familiar and discouraging panorama of defeat. It looked, for a moment anyway, as though he'd never get up.